AFL – Dees cool in flag market

After three straight defeats, reigning premiers Melbourne are all of a sudden stumbling in their bid for back-to-back AFL premierships.

Thing could not have been rosier for Melbourne just three weeks ago. The 2021 premiers had just won their 17th-straight AFL game, and pundits pondered whether they could even break the all-time record of 23 set by Geelong in 1952-53.

But things have hit a significant bump in the road.

It started with defeat to Fremantle, which was rather generously brushed off as ‘the loss they had to have’, despite going down by 38 points on home turf. Next up, again at the MCG, they were overrun by Sydney, and worry started to creep in. Then, on Queen’s Birthday Monday, despite starting strong $1.40 favourites against Collingwood, they went down again. A third-straight loss has turned into full-blown concern. Before the Fremantle clash, Simon Goodwin’s men were strong $2.45 AFL Premiership favourites with Palmerbet. Now? Well, the Dees are cooling by the week, currently out to $3.60. And on Wednesday, the news got worse.

Forward issues

Despite their dominance over the last 18 months, Melbourne could never be considered an ‘elite’ forward line. Their defence and midfield are clear strengths, and while they are undeniably strong in their forward half (you can’t win a flag without being so), it’s not where they distance themselves from the AFL pack. And those issues are coming to the fore. Tom McDonald is injured, while Ben Brown and Bailey Fritsch aren’t linking up well with forward entries. “Their on-field (issues) is their inability to convert what happens when they go inside 50,” club legend Garry Lyon said on SEN radio this week. “It’s been a problem, it’s been a problem last year, they tidied it up a bit and they got it right at the right time of the year … but this year has been really poor.”

Against Collingwood, they gave up the second-most intercept marks they’ve conceded a game since 2020. They’re simply not hitting targets inside-50, too. In the last four games they’ve taken 8, 7, 8 and 6 grabs inside 50, which is not enough for a side with flag hopes. Now equal on points with Brisbane and Fremantle, the Dees have cooled in AFL minor premiership betting too, $1.45 out to $2.75 with Palmerbet.

Off-field troubles

A far more difficult issue to quantify is the club’s current off-field issues. Reports of star defender (and arguably most important player alongside the injured Gawn) Steven May punching on with Jake Melksham is clearly an issue. More so when you consider it was started by a taunt that divided those who played in the AFL Premiership last season and those who didn’t. The issue paints significant doubt over their flag defence.

To come

It doesn’t get any easier for Melbourne in the coming weeks. Next-up (following a bye this weekend) they face second-favourites in the flag race in Brisbane, set to be a huge test at the MCG and a potential pre-cursor to this year’s AFL Finals series. A fortnight after that they travel to the Cattery for one of football’s toughest away trips. The reason these clashes would worry Goodwin is his side’s current form against the top clubs. After defeat to Collingwood, the Dees are now 1-3 against teams currently in the Top 8. They also have a particularly worrying recent trend in the second half.